From time-to-time I like to stocktake where I think classroom learning is. I do this because I think it is important schools don’t regularise the terrible or make normal the grossly abnormal. I sense this could be happening. My view is that schools are staffed with hard working, kindly, and professional people but that classroom learning, ironically amidst an ocean of objectives, has lost its way. Schools are very busy but to what important learning purposes? The paragraph that follows suggests one reason why this might have happened. From my visits to hundreds of schools, say, over the last three years, what follows would relate to most of them.
A manifestation terrible to children’s learning motivation and teacher professionalism is occurring – students at colleges of education and teachers in classrooms are being structured to believe that the central task in teaching is putting together an array of objectives, and a strange phenomenon called learning outcomes, all declared as needing to be observable. And at the top of this array is a heading, often abstract and grand sounding, always bland and inert – designed to leave the field open to objectives taking learning in all sorts of directions as long as they are measurable. One senses that for many teachers the construction of such arrays is considered the ultimate in being a professional; the pedagogical endgame. In reality much of what is done is thoughtlessly copied from elsewhere – the antithesis of professionalism. Rather than teaching to a dynamic main aim to provide learning coherence, teaching is fragmented to parts of learning, made worse by learning having to be observable. That usually leads to the proper main aim of a curriculum area, the essence of a curriculum area, being neglected. For instance, in expressive writing, the main aim, the essence of the curriculum area, is writing with sincerity, but that main aim is never referred to in classroom expressive writing in New Zealand (nor even hinted at in the standardised e-asTTle writing test). An array of objectives, and learning outcomes headed by a bland, inert goal is not a mark of teacher professionalism, just the reverse; it is a construction of bricks in the wall – bricks that need to be taken down before real professionalism and real teaching and learning can occur. And then there are learning outcomes that children have to parrot before lessons begin. Where do children reciting learning outcomes leave discovery learning? Perhaps learning outcomes might have some value if, in expressive writing, for instance, the children recited: We will write with sincerity, but what chances of that? Under the new neoliberal order, teachers and principals will have their professional development mainly directed to administration and computers (and I note so do programmes of principal associations), on the odd occasion when directed to the curriculum it will be undertaken by official providers with their carefully prescribed attention to observable, therefore measurable objectives. Where will be the curriculum discussions of the sort that used to occur? Be assured, there won’t be the opportunity or the audience. When did you as a teacher or principal go to a science or social studies course; or is that curriculum with its high-fangled heading and array of observable objectives and learning outcomes all sorted?
A networkonnet reader understood and sent me the following quote:
‘Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.’
― Alexis de Tocqueville